Vision 2020: Joamette Gil

The Power & Magic of creating an indie comics universe that tells the tales of life, love, and adventure in a nonbinary culture of color

Born to the Cuban diaspora in Miami, Florida, Joamette Gil moved to Portland to study illustration after graduating from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where she studied psychology. In search of community, she had founded the Olympia Comics Collective for local comics creators to network, collaborate, and promote the comics medium. The collective put out two anthologies, both edited by Gil, planting the seed for her future as a publisher.


VISION 2020: TWENTY VIEWS ON OREGON ARTS


In 2016 Gil opened Power & Magic Press, an award-winning independent comics publisher striving for the creative and economic empowerment of queer creators, creators of color, and creators at the intersections. The press’s flagship anthology series, POWER & MAGIC: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology, collects short fantasy comics by women of color and woman-aligned, nonbinary POC. Volumes one and two are available for preorder online, and the companion title IMMORTAL SOULS is for sale as well. In 2019, P&M Press also published HEARTWOOD: Non-binary Tales of Sylvan Fantasy, the first ever all nonbinary comics anthology, which sold out within six months of publication.

In addition to writing and editing for P&M Press, Gil is a communications coordinator for Weird Enough Productions by day and letters graphic novels for various creators by night. Outside of her own anthologies, her cartooning has most recently appeared in The Nib, Puerto Rico Strong (Lion Forge, 2019 Eisner Winner), and Drawing Power (Abrams ComicArts, New York Times’ Best Comics of 2019).

Joamette Gil, an independent force in the comics world. Photo courtesy Joamette Gil

What was it that attracted you to the medium of comics?

I fell in love with cartoons in general before I actually got into comics. As an introverted, low-income immigrant kid, escapism was my thing, and my favorite way to escape was watching Sailor Moon. The way she made me feel convinced me that, when I grew up, I wanted to make others feel the same way using characters of my own. I eventually gravitated to the comics medium after getting my hands on a manhwa (Korean comic) called Kill Me, Kiss Me about a girl who poses as a boy to attend her crush’s all-boys school. It taught me that comics could be about anything — not just superheroes — and that a single creator could have total control over the art and story. Comics are singular in that they can contain the breadth and depth of a feature film on a shoestring budget and one vision. Sequential art also happens to be the one true lingua franca. Consider airplane safety pamphlets and IKEA instructions; when universal understanding is at stake, the language of choice is comics.

How did you find your voice as an artist?

My voice is still becoming itself, so to speak. I think that’s the case for every artist. Thinking of my voice as something I’m cultivating, rather than “finding” fully formed, has actually helped a lot. There are certain subjects I’m drawn to over and over again: identity, death and rebirth, Latin American history, the Jungian shadow, and darkness as refuge (as opposed to a symbol of evil). By committing to what I’m genuinely interested in and exploring as many aspects of them as I can, in different ways, my voice is inherently present.

What kind of stories do you want to tell?

I want to write (and publish) emotionally complex stories about people who are usually ignored by mainstream media. One example of a graphic novelist who does this consistently and beautifully is Mariko Tamaki (Skim, This One Summer, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me). Her work always features mixed-race girls grappling with their sense of self and womanhood when confronted with serious situations, like family discord and pregnancy. I personally like to bring low fantasy and magical realism into the mix where possible, just because it’s fun to express yourself outside the limitations of realism.

What was the impetus for creating Power & Magic Press?

I started Power & Magic Press in 2016 after some disappointing experiences and observations in the small press comics world. Primarily, I was emotionally exhausted by projects that took a lot of effort and ended in checks that were disproportionately small given those efforts. There was just no way, in my mind, that paying cartoonists more than the prevailing standards was impossible. So, I set out to find out for myself by taking a stab at running a Kickstarter anthology project. Four years (and four anthologies) later, I found out for myself that higher rates — while definitely harder to achieve than I previously realized — are consistently possible.

Queer witch tales: Cover from Power & Magic, Volume 2.

How would you describe the cultural scene here right now? Comics specifically, but also any more general observations you have. 

Portland is absolutely teeming with cartoonists, working in every visual style and narrative genre, from memoir to superhero to fantasy to political, in zine form and webcomic form and graphic novel form… it’s endless! As a major city, we’re also visited by other cartoonists on book tours year round, and we see a massive influx of visiting creators each fall for Rose City Comic Con. Every quadrant has at least one amazing comic book shop, and our work often overlaps with the gallery scene, too. Exhibits of comics and cartooning work are common, as are gallery shops that carry local work.

There’s a myth that we all know each other, but it’s more accurate to say Portland cartoonists all have friends in common. There’s a micro-scene for everyone, and I learn about new creators moving here (or having been here all along) every few months. Tensions have been high in the community in recent years as we continue to challenge racism and misogyny from within this largely white male dominated profession. Unionization is also a growing conversation among professionals from all levels of publishing.

Portland has a lot of comic artists, studios, and shops. Why do you think they flourish here?

My gut says our comics scene took root when rent was cheaper! It was a lot easier for visual artists of all stripes to rent studio space downtown back in the ’90s. That same decade, we saw the birth of Oni Press (now Oni-Lion Forge) right here in Portland, joining Dark Horse Comics (down in Milwaukie) to make Portland one of the rare American metro areas with multiple comics industry employers. Now we’ve got four: Oni (Scott Pilgrim, Stumptown, Rick & Morty), Dark Horse (Harrow County, American Gods, ElfQuest), Image Comics (Saga, The Walking Dead, The Wicked + The Divine), and The Nib. Even though the internet has normalized remote work, especially in comics, cartoonists still benefit from living in a “comics town,” both for networking opportunities and in-person access to friends who understand the hustle.

Any local creators/studios/shops you think people should know about?

Definitely Books With Pictures on 14th and Division! It’s one of the best comic book shops in Portland, catering strongly to LGBTQ+ and small press comics. They also host creator Nichole Robinson’s weekly comics meetup, where creators from all over Portland gather to draw together each Thursday. If you’re looking for new cartoonists to fawn over, I highly recommend the works of newly local V. Gagnon and longtime residents Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg and Jonathan Hill.

What predictions do you have for culture in Portland for 2020? Comics and otherwise. What do you hope for in 2020? Do you fear anything for 2020?

My biggest hope is for Portland Indie Con to really take off this year! Despite our flourishing comics scene, Portland hosts very few comics conventions. Several have existed (Stumptown, Linework, Artist Alley Fest), but only one survives (Rose City Comic Con). Portland Indie Con debuted late June 2019, and my experience there was great. If it continues to grow and thrive, it will be an invaluable resource for both comics creators and fans in the metro area. While there are other vending opportunities for cartoonists in town (Kumoricon, Portland Zine Symposium), those cater to more niche audiences than devoted comics events do. Niche can be good, of course!

Panel from Joamette Gil’s “Super Glue.”

What predictions/hopes/fears do you have for culture in the next decade? How do you think comics will change?

I think digital-only and digital-first comics will experience a boom in the next ten years, specifically because Webtoons just optioned Lore Olympus for an animated series and Comixology Originals is proactively seeking more talent to grow their catalog. In general, I’m sure we’ll get a ton of new animated series based on comics or employing cartoonists as showrunners. As for print media, that’s definitely not going anywhere. There was a fear earlier in the decade that digital would overtake print, but it’s become pretty clear that the allure of the book as a tangible object won’t go away. More traditional prose publishers are expanding into comics, and I hope it leads to greater acceptance of the medium in classroom settings, English classes in particular.

If you could make one thing happen in the 2020s, what would it be?

I would stop climate change from causing irreversible damage to all life on earth as we know it. That’s step one for all else, honestly. I’m actually working on a story right now that takes place in Miami after it sinks beneath the sea, almost as a therapeutic exercise in acceptance for the worst. As a Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, this is a big deal for me, haha. 

What do you have coming up in 2020? Any projects you want to tell our readers about?

Yes! The sequel to our flagship title, POWER & MAGIC: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology Volume 2, comes out in June 2020, along with our first reprinting of volume one. The series is comprised of short, one-shot stories about queer witches of color in different fantasy settings. Every creator is an LGBTQ+ woman of color or woman-aligned nonbinary of color, putting forth themes of power, self-discovery, and self-actualization. 

Prior to that, in May, we’re Kickstarting a new series called MAÑANA: Latinx Comics From The 25th Century (follow us on Kickstarter for notifications). It’s an all-Latinx project based on the prompt, “What will Latin America be like 500 years from now?” Latin America – and subsequently, the current world order as we know it – was sparked by Columbus’s voyage to the Caribbean roughly 500 years ago. Too few sci-fi stories center the people whose lives served as ground zero for everything from the slave trade, to the invention of race, to the decimation of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. How would a Mexican character engage with beings from another world? How would a Cuban writer handle migration in the context of rising sea levels? What would Peruvian space hegemony look like? These are the kinds of stories we’ll be tackling in MAÑANA.

Heartwood: entering a new forest of story.

You’ve really established a career for yourself outside of one of the big houses. What advice do you have for young comic artists?

It’s not very romantic, but here’s my most emphatic tip: Get a day job. Or choose a life partner who’s okay with shouldering all the bills until your creative career takes off. Having been in both situations (currently single with a day job), I can say with full clarity that I much prefer balancing two jobs and feeling secure, rather than relying on comics income alone (which was just enough to scrape by on only after a full decade of putting myself out there). 

Tips on how to hone your craft or how to “break in” or “build your own” aside, the most challenging aspect of “making it” in comics is sticking around. You’re not going to be making any money at first, no matter how skilled you are. When you do make money, poverty-level income is the norm. That’s the comics industry. No one makes it without a ton of help from many sources, and often the most crucial help is dollars.

PS: Please, please, please ignore the heck out of anyone who says you’re less of a cartoonist if you have a day job. Those people exist, and I promise they’re all bozos. 

Bonus Hot Tip: Get a literary agent and pitch to traditional publishers, too. Thank me later.

What’s the best way for people to follow your work?

People can find my personal and freelance work at joamettegil.com, and all things P&M Press at powerandmagicpress.com. There you’ll find links to our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and email list, so you can follow our projects via whichever social platform you favor!

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This is the eighth in a series of twenty interviews in twenty days with arts and cultural figures around Oregon, creating a group portrait of the state of the arts in the state. It looks at where we’ve been, where we are, and what might or should happen culturally in the 2020s.

Previously:

  • Rachel Barreras-Kleemann. The Newport dance teacher’s “small” goals: keep kids motivated to dance, give low-income kids a place to go.
  • Niel DePonte. The Portland percussionist, composer, and conductor for more than 40 years thinks about thorny issues ahead.
  • Darcy Dolge, Sarah West, and Nancy Knowles. Three leaders of Eastern Oregon’s Art Center East in La Grande say funding cuts could have been dire in their rural area, but the community stepped up to keep arts thriving.
  • Maya Vivas and Leila Haile. The founders of North Mississippi Avenue’s Ori Gallery “often joke about how we would love to not be the only Queer, Black-run art space in town.”
  • Christopher Acebo. The longtime key figure at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and recent chair of the Oregon Arts Commission talks about diversity, funding, and who controls the gate to the castle.
  • Yulia Arakelyan and Erik Ferguson. Beyond the arts bubble, the Wobbly duo see a dangerous world: “Hate based crime directed against people with disabilities has gone up.”
  • John Olbrantz. The director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art talks about the museum, Salem’s lively arts community, and its “blessing and curse” of being near Portland.

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